End of an era: Soumitra Chatterjee, Ray’s all-time favorite lead in iconic movies, will live
The curtain fell on an era of Bengali cinema in which 85-year-old Soumitra Chatterjee, the most illustrious protégé of legendary director Satyajit Ray, died in a private hospital in South Kolkata at 12:15 PM on Sunday. He suffered from Covid encephalopathy.
With the death of the winner of the Dadasaheb Phalke Prize, a 61-year journey in film and theater came to an end that was influenced by the history of Bengal, the creation of Bangladesh, the Emergence and the rise of Marxism and shaped by the works of immortal writers.
Most of the great actors Chatterjee shared screen space with – Chhabi Biswas, Uttam Kumar, Utpal Dutta, and Subhendu Chatterjee, to name just a few – have passed away over the decades. Chatterjee was the last male face of what veterans often called the golden age. The chronicle of his life, which gave the public around 300 films in monochrome and color, stands as testimony.
When Mohit Kumar Chatterjee and his wife, Asha, had their second child on January 19, 1935, no one in the family possibly thought that the name Soumitra would touch a chord with millions one day.
Affectionately called Pulu, a nickname the Chatterjees found appropriate for the mischievous boy who would run through the family home in Krishnanagar in the Nadia district, Soumitra showed the first signs of an artist among the four siblings at a fairly young age.
“Our family moved to Howrah when I was ten years old. I was a high jump champion at Howrah Zilla School. My parents had a great influence on me. My father inspired me to be an actor, while my mother introduced me to the world of poetry, ”Chatterjee said during a television show in 2010, six years after being awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award. awarded by the Government of India.
The veteran was already 75 years old in 2010, but the real recognition of the interpreter within him had not yet arrived.
Unlike no other actor in Indian cinema, Chatterjee played key roles in up to 14 films that Ray made between 1959 and 1990. Most of them received national and international praise, but Chatterjee, despite his outstanding performance in some, never obtained the national award for acting. . These films included Apur Sansar (The World of Apu), the third in Ray’s internationally acclaimed Apu trilogy, in which Chatterjee made his debut in 1959 as the husband of another newcomer, Sharmila Tagore, 15.
Ray became Chatterjee’s mentor. Their association lasted until Ray’s second last film, Shakha Proshakha (Tree Branches), released in 1990. Their 31-year journey became unique when Ray had Chatterjee in and out of various characters such as private detective Pradosh Mitra or, a village teacher (Hirak Rajar Deshe or The Kingdom of Diamonds, 1980) who led the people to a rebellion against an autocratic king played by another dean of Bengali cinema and theater, Utpal Dutta.
Ray’s other films in which Chatterjee excelled are Abhijan (The Expedition, 1962), Charulata (The Lonely Wife, 1964), Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest, 1969), Ashani Sanket (Distant Thunder, 1973) , Ghare Baire (Home and the World, 1984) and Ganashatru (Enemy of the People, 1989).
Director Shyam Benegal, commenting on Chatterjee during an interview, said: “He has worked especially for Satyajit Ray. All the movies he’s made for Ray are extraordinary. He fits the role in a way that becomes the person he would know right away. That’s a brilliant quality in an actor and he has it. ”
Chatterjee, who graduated from City College and earned her master’s degree in Bengali literature from the University of Calcutta, was immensely inspired by actress Sisir Kumar Bhaduri, an icon of her time. Chatterjee joined the theater after college and got a job as a broadcaster at All India Radio (AIR), where he worked for about two years.
“I was closely associated with the great Sisir Kumar Bhaduri. It was almost predestined for me to be an actor. I made a decision when I graduated. But I never thought I would be a famous movie star. Before witnessing a revolutionary change in India with Pather Panchali (the first part of the Apu trilogy and released in 1955), I had a somewhat snobbish idea about cinema. I didn’t like Bengali cinema in those days, ”Chatterjee said frankly during an interview decades after his debut.
Although he shared screen space with acclaimed artists such as Uttam Kumar, Utpal Dutt, Suchitra Sen, Tanuja and Sharmila Tagore, Chatterjee, unlike these co-actors, was always reluctant to try his luck in the Mumbai film industry. He appeared in only two full-length Hindi films; Nirupama (1986), which was a telefilm, and Hindustani Sipahi (2002). Both were made by Bengali directors who had chosen local actors. However, some of the films Chatterjee worked on were later remade in Mumbai.
Often described by critics and fans as the hero of intellectual moviegoers and not the masses, Chatterjee also worked for the acclaimed Mrinal Sen and Tapan Sinha.
She played the lead role in Sen’s Akash Kusum (Up In the Clouds, 1965) alongside Aparna Sen, her longtime friend and co-actor in many projects. The film was remade in Hindi 10 years later by another legendary director, Basu Chatterjee. Starring Amitabh Bachchan and Moushumi Chatterjee, Manzil (Destiny) did moderate business, but her music composed by RD Burman remains a hit on the charts.
With Sinha, Chatterjee worked on Khudita Pashan (Hungry Stones, 1960), Jhinder Bandi (The Prisoner of Jhind, 1961), and Atonko (Fear, 1984).
Based on a novel by Sharadindu Bandopadhyay that was inspired by Anthony Hope’s 1894 novel The Prisoner of Zenda, Jhinder Bandi saw Chatterjee playing a ruthless villain for the first time, and that too against Uttam Kumar, who was then the star. of Bengali cinema.
Chatterjee received the highest awards from the government of India quite late in his life. He even turned down the Padma Shree twice because he felt his prowess hadn’t been recognized.
“I have long since lost interest in these awards because they are often given to someone who did not deserve them. It is not an ego problem. It is simply a reasonable thought. I have acted in 14 of Ray’s films and I have not been considered the best actor in any of them, ”Chatterjee once said during an interview.
Chatterjee received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1998 and 2011, the Padma Bhusan in 2004, and the National Film Award for acting in Podokkhep (steps) in 2006, although two of his best-known films won the National Film Award in 1991 and 2000. .
Finally, in 2012, Chatterjee received the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke award and, in 2018, the government of France honored him with the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, (Legion of Honor), France’s highest civilian award. But here too Chatterjee followed his mentor. Ray received the award from the French government in 1987.
Chatterjee gave an emotional speech after receiving the Dadasaheb Phalke Award from Hamid Ansari, Vice President of India.
“I’m really not in the mood to say anything about this. All my life I have been plagued with doubts about my work and I always thought that maybe this entertainment business is really not worth it. And I’ve always thought that if I could do something like Albert Schweitzer and go to a distant leper colony and serve people, my life would have been worth it. But time and time again over the past 50+ years, my compatriots have accepted, loved, and made me feel like one of their own. I love them. I respect them. They are the reason I have come so far…. I salute you because you have given me the energy and determination to continue with what I believe and what I believe to be good art … ”said Chatterjee.
The recognition moved some of the stalwarts of the Indian film industry.
“Having Mr. Chatterjee receive the Phalke Award is well deserved. I think he is one of those actors who would be counted as one of the best in the world, “said director Govind Nihalni in an interview.
A passionate fan of literature, writer, and poet, Chatterjee also loved to draw sketches. But he never abandoned the theater, his first passion. He presented his first play during his college days and directed or acted in a dozen more over the next several decades.
In November 2010, Chatterjee donned Celtic makeup and disguise to appear on stage at age 75 as Raja Lear (Kind Lear), a play based on the tragedy by William Shakespeare and directed by Suman Mukhopadhyay. While gaining praise for the role, Chatterjee told a literary festival that he would like to do Macbeth but wasn’t sure if his health would allow it.
A statement Chatterjee made during his last interview to a Bengali news channel a few months ago showed the world his indomitable spirit and perhaps also his vulnerability.
“I feel alive because I am still acting,” he said.
Nothing could be more true for a man who shocked the YouTube generation in 2015 by playing Radhika Apte’s husband, an actor a third his age, in Sujoy Ghosh’s 14-minute film Ahalya.
Some of the movies iconic actor Soumitra Chatterjee will be remembered for:
Apur Sansar, 1959
Khudita Pashan, 1960
Jhinder Bandi, 1961
Kanya teenager, 1961
Akash Kusum, 1965
Din Ratri chandeliers, 1969
Bhubaner Paare teenager, 1969
Prathom Kadam Phool, 1969
Baksho Badal, 1970
Ashani Sanket, 1973
Basanta Bilap, 1973
Sonar Kella, 1974
Hirak Rajar Deshe, 1980
Ghare Baire, 1984
Shakha Proshakha, 1990
Bela Seshe, 2015